Gray rebukes council official Administrator accused of 'insubordination' after news report

Police investigation sought

Emery defends actions -- revealed staff used in fund-raising effort

July 09, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray lashed out yesterday at council Administrator Chris Emery, accusing him of the "rankest kind of insubordination" for supposedly leaking information to a reporter about a questionable fund-raising effort by Gray.

The loud, six-minute outburst was a strikingly public moment in a long-running feud between Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, and the council's Republican majority, which appointed Emery.

An article in Sunday's editions of The Sun detailed letters sent by Gray asking 50 companies -- including at least one firm that the council regulates, Comcast Cablevision -- for $1,000 donations to finance his campaign to head the National Association of Counties (NACO), a Washington lobbying group.

At a council meeting yesterday morning, Gray accused Emery of getting those letters from his private files and leaking them to The Sun.

"I'm going to ask the chief [of police] to investigate these things," Gray said at one point. "I see it as a whole case of dirty tricks."

During the meeting, Emery defended his actions. And afterward, the leader of the Republican majority, council Chairman Darrel E. Drown of Ellicott City, called Gray's attack on Emery, and a later attack on him, inappropriate.

About two weeks earlier, Gray and Emery had argued loudly in council offices over a related issue -- Gray's use of county staff, envelopes and more than $500 in postage to send 1,700 letters and brochures touting his NACO campaign.

But the fund-raising campaign itself raised a more serious issue: The county's ethics law prohibits public officials from soliciting money, unless it is a state-regulated contribution to a campaign for public office.

At yesterday's council meeting, Emery acknowledged that he had told The Sun about Gray's use of county staff, envelopes and postage for his campaign. But Emery told the council he did not take letters from Gray's file and give them to The Sun.

"I'm not sure what you're accusing me of, Vernon," Emery said, his voice rising. "I did not make copies, or obtain letters and give them to anybody.

"This whole thing," Emery added, "revolves around last week, when I raised the question whether it [Gray's campaign] was an appropriate use of county staff, postage and supplies."

To support his claim of dirty tricks, Gray said he discovered his county office file of correspondence missing at about the same time The Sun obtained its copies of the letters.

Later, Gray said he found his file among Drown's folders. Three or four of Drown's letters were mixed in with Gray's, he said.

"For the first time since I've been on this council," Gray said, his voice cracking with anger, "I'm going to start locking my door to my office. I've never done that since I've been on this council. That's the kind of atmosphere that's created around here."

He then left the council meeting, skipping the rest of the session.

After the meeting, Drown criticized Gray's outburst. Both Drown and Gray are considering runs for county executive in 1998. They have frequently argued over Gray's use of county expenses.

"This job, you take your licks," Drown said. "But you don't question someone's integrity in public unless you've really got something. I just think he was throwing out accusations to deflect criticism."

Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia, Gray's lone Democratic colleague on the council, left the council room to talk with her assistant after the bickering began.

Later, Lorsung said she could not remember having seen such an acrimonious exchange in more than seven years of watching council meetings.

She defended Gray's using council staff, postage and envelopes for his campaign, but she said it was unusual for Gray to publicly scold a council employee, as opposed to a fellow council member, at a meeting.

"As all grown-up adult people," she said, "we ought to be able to resolve whatever issues come up without a public display."

Gray did not return phone messages seeking further comment.

Said Emery: "Those [correspondence] files are public information, so I don't know what he's so upset about."

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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